Image of woman at ATM

8 Important ATM Safety Steps

February 08, 2024

Virtually everyone uses ATMs (automated teller machines) to make fast and easy withdrawals or deposits. ATMs may be either drive-thru or walk-up accessible. Because these units deal with cash, they may become targets for theft and suspicious activity. To keep you and your account safe, here are eight steps to remember.

Keep Your Card Secure

Four types of card can be used at ATMs: an ATM-only card to withdraw from your account; a debit card to withdraw from your account; a credit card to borrow against your credit line; or a prepaid card to withdraw from its balance. All card types need a PIN (personal identification number) for ATM transactions. A PIN is a 4-digit card security measure that helps prevent fraudulent charges.

When creating a PIN, don’t use numbers someone may guess, such as those relating to your birthday, card number, or address. Never write your PIN down or give it out to anyone. No individual or entity should ask you for it, including merchants, financial agencies, or law enforcement.

If your financial institution offers card management tools – such as locking and unlocking your card from anywhere with a mobile app – take advantage of them. Locking your card when you aren’t using it prevents transactions from going through, adding protection if your card ever is compromised.

Prepare in Advance

Preparation can limit the time you’re at the ATM and keep you focused on your transaction and surroundings. Before you leave for the ATM, get everything ready that you’ll need for the transaction (such as endorsing a check or organizing cash you want to deposit). Put your cash, checks, and card all in one discreet but accessible place, like an envelope or secure pocket of your bag. This way, you won’t have to hunt for anything when you arrive at the ATM. It’s also smart not to wear or take any expensive items with you, like jewelry.

Find the Best Location

ATMs in well-lit, busy areas with camera surveillance are the least likely to be targeted by thieves, so ATMs located at financial institutions, inside hotels, and inside grocery stores are often the safest. Avoid ATMs that are located out of view of the road (such as behind a building) or that have decorative shrubbery, columns, or structures nearby, which could be used as hiding places.

Wait With an Out

If you’re using a drive-up ATM, leave enough room between cars for you to safely maneuver away if needed. Stay in your car with the doors locked, windows up, and engine running. When it’s your turn at the ATM, pull as close to the machine as possible, making it difficult for someone to get between it and your car. If someone approaches you or asks for help at any time, don’t unlock your door or open your window. Instead, politely decline, and stay in your vehicle. Drive away if you feel uncomfortable.

If you leave your car and walk to the ATM, lock your car and remain alert to your surroundings. If you’re walking to the ATM, go with friends and during daylight whenever possible. Whether in a car or on foot, watch for loiterers or suspicious vehicles parked nearby. If you see or sense that something is amiss, leave and perform your transaction at a different time or location. Always trust your gut.

Check for ATM Tampering

Card skimmers are electronic devices that record information like your card number and PIN, which can then be used to make counterfeit cards or fraudulent purchases. Skimmers aren’t always easy to spot, so look for these warning signs when you get to the ATM:

  • Scratches or scrapes around the screen, keypad, or card reader
  • Glue, tape, or sticky residue on the screen, keypad, or card reader
  • Loose, crooked, or dangling ATM components
  • Bulkiness on the card reader or keypad
  • Partially covered or missing buttons, words, or graphics
  • Resistance when pressing buttons or inserting your card

There are also apps you can download on your phone that check for nearby skimmers by scanning for Bluetooth signals that are sending information from the ATM. You should also look around for pinhole cameras, which can be glued to the ATM or installed in a small hole nearby (such as one drilled into a brick pillar). They may be used to identify your PIN or other details. If you’re ever in doubt, trust your gut, report it to the business that manages the ATM, and use a different machine.

Keep Your Transaction Secure

No one should be close enough to the ATM to see your transaction details. If they are, politely ask them to step back, and leave if they refuse to. At walk-up ATMs, use your body and hand to shield the keypad from view as you enter your PIN and make your deposit or withdrawal.

Don’t accept anyone’s offer to assist with your transaction, even if you’re running into problems with the ATM. Instead, just leave and try a different ATM. If you realize after completing your transaction that someone may have seen your details, lock your card and contact your financial institution right away.

Handle Withdrawals With Care

If you’re withdrawing cash, use extra caution. Be observant of your surroundings and leave if something seems odd. Put your cash somewhere safe and discreet immediately. Wait until you’re somewhere else before counting it, even if you’re in a car. Always take your receipt or have it emailed to you and compare receipts to your account statements so you can easily identify fraudulent activity.

Leave Quickly

When leaving an ATM, promptly roll your car window up and keep your doors locked. Try to avoid driving past suspicious vehicles or people. If leaving on foot, walk with a purpose and pay attention to your surroundings. Don’t walk past suspicious vehicles or people.

If you feel unsafe in any ATM situation, immediately go into the nearest reputable business or call someone you trust. People are less likely to hassle you if they know that someone else knows where you are and can hear what’s going on. If you’re followed from the ATM, go to the nearest crowded, well-lit area and call the police.

ATMs are designed with safety and security in mind, and staying vigilant throughout your transaction can help you spot suspicious behavior. If you notice anything unusual, use a different ATM or come back at a different time, and report unlawful behavior to the authorities. Report lost, stolen, or potentially compromised cards right away to your financial institution. If you are confronted while at an ATM, comply with demands – nothing is more valuable than your life.